Canoe Trip of a Lifetime Touches Mississippi Floodwaters

Mandi Miller

Click to see more photos

From when his paddle first touched the water as a young Boy Scout, Associate Professor of Biology Jerry Bricker has had a passion for nature. His love of the outdoors led him to push off from the banks of the Missouri River near Nebraska City and paddle, alone in his canoe, for his sister’s place—1,845 miles away in Carrabelle, Fla.

The planning stages for this summer’s journey started in the fall of 2009 when Bricker started to map his route, which snaked along the Missouri, joined the Mississippi and clung to the gulf shore to Carrabelle. He compiled lists of equipment and supplies he’d need.

“I don’t know the simple answer to why I wanted to do this,” he said. “Other than it was on my list of things to do. I want to see the country and be in the wilderness simply because it’s there.”

It wasn’t until the week before his May 15 departure that Bricker purchased his single seat canoe. That left no time for a “shakedown”— the series of short trips to break in the canoe and see how it handles ahead of a longer journey.

“Mentally, I’m ready,” Bricker said just days before his adventure. “I’m excited about the trip as a human adventure. I’m wondering what types of characters I’ll meet and hope to have a long list of new friends by the end.”

Epic outdoor experiences are nothing new for Bricker who has backpacked in Alaska and joined his colleague, Professor of Biology Dale Benham, on two student trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota. Bricker has also led several study abroad trips to Costa Rica, Honduras and Belize.

Whether it’s above a Central American reef, in an Alaskan forest or on a Nebraskan river, Bricker professed a love for “the feeling of letting the wilderness experience wash over you.”

After paddling the first 560 miles to St. Louis, Mo., Bricker reached the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. The flooded Mississippi gushed and raged, looking too dangerous to navigate in his tiny canoe. Bricker pulled his canoe from the rising water and ended his trip. “I was pretty glad I made the decision to end where I did,” he journaled at the time. “The water is high, fast and wide on the Mississippi right now and it looks like a good decision was made.”

His choice to stop in the face of a swollen and powerful Mississippi was reflective of a mindset that Bricker tries to impart to his students: to understand and work with nature rather than attempt to control or conquer it.

While the trip fell roughly 1,300 miles short of his goal, Bricker viewed the whole experience positively. The way so many people reached out to help him—a stranger on their stretch of river—“restored my faith in America,” he said. “People are good, if you let them be good to you.”