In just a week, I'll be headed up to Minneapolis to collect my kayak and a few more provisions, and then I'll be starting this journey! Ever since I dropped my cats off at their summer camp location, things have felt like they're moving at a very fast clip. Last minute dehydrating, last minute packing, and I'm still making last minute calls and connections. I'm SO excited, and I am utterly grateful and humbled by the 58 people so far who have donated to my Kickstarter campaign--we are 70% of the way to my goal! The kickstarter is up until next Friday, June 19th at 11:59pm. THANK YOU so much, to all of you who have helped spread the word of this project and donated. I have one more week to go, and collecting that last 30% is going to be nerve-wracking, so please help me get to my goal SOONER than LATER (please!). If I go over my goal, I will be able to potentially afford a sonde (a probe that measures water quality), which would really improve the ease and stability of my water quality measurements. At this point, I have spoken with John Sullivan, a water quality biologist who used to work for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). He paddled the Mississippi a few years ago, measuring water quality along the way. He has shared his data and methodology with me, and I'll be repeating it to the best of my abilities. He was able to borrow a sonde from the Wisconsin DNR a few years ago, but does not have access to them any more, as he has retired. I am doing my best to borrow a sonde, but in the event that I am not able to borrow one, I would only be able to afford one if I am funded $1200-1500 above my stated fundraising goal. Failing that, I'll be collecting water samples the old fashioned way, measuring the samples ashore later in the day; a methodology that is much more time-intensive. So, fingers crossed that I make my goal ASAP, and that I am able to either borrow a sonde, or that my fundraising goes exceedingly well. Help me out, my dear readers!
I drove out to Rockhall, MD the other day. Rockhall is where my family bought our boat, Feather, when I was a kid, before we went sailing for a year, so it has a special place in my heart. I also like to think that I'm starting my journey in the same place my parents started theirs 25 years ago.
I spent several hours with Jim of Chester River Kayak Adventures, who taught me how to assist someone to get back inside their kayak after they tip it, and also how to get back inside my own kayak after I tip it. He said in 20 years of teaching, I was the most adept at crawling back inside my kayak. I attribute that to my uber-flexibility and therefore, my ability to stay super low on the kayak while I'm maneuvering back inside. It's a good thing I'm good at it though, because he also said that in 20 years of teaching I was the first female to tip her kayak by accident! Hopefully I've learned my lesson about how sensitive kayaks are to weight changes, and I won't ever have to use the skills I learned. But in case I do, I'm ready!
I don't know why I hadn't thought of it sooner, but I've been dehydrating vegetables to take with me on the kayak. My awesome housemate Rachel was pleased the dehydrator was getting some use, and I was pretty suprised how much dehydrating the veggies saves space and weight. I mean, duh, but the difference in volume and weight of fresh versus dried veggies was greater than I'd imagined it would be. Now I can spice up my noodle dishes with mushrooms, leeks, carrots, peppers, onions.
I'm a geek when it comes to maps. I pore over them for hours looking for funny town names, tracing the wiggles of creeks and rivers. So even though I've been planning this trip for close to 3 months, it really became real when I ordered the water trail maps from the Minnesota Dept. of Natural Resources. The send them to you for free, all you have to do is request them! Their website is really cool, too; you can take panoramic tours of places along the way. A great tool if you want to see what I'll be seeing! Anyway, getting maps makes me feel like I'm closer to ACTUALLY DOING THIS THING, but I still need support to make sure it gets funded fully. Please donate here and share the link with your communities!
I also was tipped off to a wonderful resource, the Mississippi River Paddlers facebook page. All sorts of difficult-to-find information has popped up on that page, like portage maps and a list of other Mississippi paddlers. From what I can tell, there will be a total of 19 people going source to sea this year, all leaving between mid May and early July. Most of them are male (there is a M/F duo, and myself), and with the exception of a group of five paddlers that left May 16th, there's a pretty even mix of duos and solo paddlers. There are lots of people on this page who live somewhere along the river who offer a safe place to shower, restock, sleep, or say hello to a friendly face--they're called "River Angels." So, fear not, there are many good people that will be in my midst, following my progress and checking in to make sure I get where I'm going.
Periodically along this journey, I will check-in on my physical and mental health. I will label them all "Health Check," so if this aspect of my journey is not interesting to you, you'll have been warned and will be able to move past the post.
I was recently reminded that health information is private (with the subtext that it should not be shared). My opinion is that "private" means that it is mine to decide what I do with it. In the same way that sexuality is private; each person may choose to share or not share whatever is comfortable for them. My reasoning for sharing is that, no matter the context, I see stigmas and predjudices decrease only after people make their personal experiences known. By humanizing our experiences through transparency and lack of shame, those around us who may not suffer the same burdens tend to eventually come around to a more compassionate view. I am also sharing because a community of people with similar symptoms and struggles exists. I have benefitted greatly from reading their stories, learning from them how to effectively deal with my own symptoms, and simply knowing that I was not alone. I am not ashamed of my conditions (I was born like this!), and my hope is that by sharing, I will be increasing awareness and compassion. I will try to explain things to provide background, but I aim to be brief and matter-of-fact because dwelling on these issues is not helpful; I like to get on with my life. That said, I am happy to talk about this stuff with anyone.
I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), a genetic connective tissue disorder that affects many body systems. I have hypermobility type, which explains my contortion abilities. I wrote a more in-depth blog post about EDS and all my symptoms here. Interestingly, mental health (anxiety in my case) is often affected amongst EDSers. My understanding of why so many of us deal with anxiety is that it is related to dysautonmia. More specifically, collagen (connective tissue) all over our body is malformed, including in our blood vessels. Blood pressure is determined in part by sensors in our blood vessels, and since our blood vessels are always a little lax, those sensors tell the brain to release adrenaline to try to constrict the vessels to correct for low blood pressure. But since the collagen in our vessels is messed up, the adrenaline doesn't necessarily work to get our blood pressure higher, but the adrenaline definitely still affects our mind and other parts of the body. The perpetual high levels of adrenaline explain weird heart rhythms (arryhthmias), high anxiety, and even vivid dreams (the adrenaline causes us to have less regular sleep patterns and light sleeping, allowing us to remember the dreams). Case in point, I woke up at 3:30am with tachycardia (heart racing), and couldn't sleep, so I am writing this blog post in the middle of the night. :)
Here's what I am currently experiencing physically with any associated pain (0=none, 10=extreme), and what I'm doing to deal with it:
Mental health update:
My body tends to (over)react similarly to excitement and stress. I take a small dose of Lexapro daily to normalize my anxiety levels. Organizing Paddle On! is really exciting, but I have to do my best to relax in the face of excellent news so that I don't induce a panic attack (sort of funny). I manage this by focusing my attention elsewhere: exercising regularly, my cats, making food, reading, taking a walk and appreciating nature, talking to people about THEIR lives, deep breaths. I feel like I'm doing a great job this week, especially with all the excitement and pressure to make sure everything is organized thoroughly for this project. I feel on top of things.
Look what came in the mail! I now have stickers (only 100), business cards, and a shirt. This shirt is the one I'm going to put sponsorship names/logos on, and will wear whenever I'm going into town to refuel along the way. Down there on the bottom are some postcards for a dance conference I'm teaching at down in Texas in 2016. All sorts of fun upcoming projects!
I had the most synchronistic and wonderful meeting with Dave Roberts this morning! I learned yesterday of a man who is also paddling the Mississippi this summer--it sounded like our time frames will be similar so I suggested we stay in touch in case we run into one another on the water. I happened to ask where he was now, and--randomly--it turns out he lives JUST FIVE MILES FROM ME here in Maryland. So I went to meet him in person this morning.
He opened the door with a wide and welcoming smile, and we instantly fell into a couple hours of trading stories, life philosophies, itineraries, and what drives our adventuresome spirit. Dave is truly a marvelous human being (follow his journey here). He's done two stints in the Peace Corps (Liberia and Vanuatu), sailed across the Atlantic (in a similar sized sloop to Feather, the boat I lived on as a kid), and is now 1/3 way through a 25,000 mile excursion around the United States via hiking, biking, and paddling. Let's see if I can remember his pathway...
He's already hiked up the Appalachian Trail, biked from Maine to Key West, walked from there to the panhandle of florida, biked to Michigan: so far, a hearty 8,000 miles in. His plan is to continue biking from Michigan to Minnesota, paddle the Mississippi, walk from New Orleans to the Grand Canyon in New Mexico, bike to the continental divide and hike up to the source of the Missouri River, paddle down the Missouri to Kansas City, bike to California, walk up the Pacific Crest Trail (or something like that, I hope I haven't butchered it too badly). So exciting and impressive! When he completes the journey, he will have been the oldest person to complete the "triple crown" (AT, continental divide, PCT) over the age of 70.
We traded tips and information about the preparation we've done for paddling. He was impressed with my preparation and how well my Kickstarter is going, and super supportive in general. It's wonderful to know that he and I, even if we're a few days ahead or behind one another, will be keeping in touch along the way and looking out for one another. He also gave me a copy of his new book, The Earth Project, and inscribed it "Alyssum, my new paddling buddy. Yahoo! -Dave".
I loved what Dave said about expanding our comfort zone. He was talking about how while he and I are very comfortable in nature, many people think what we're doing is crazy because it is out of their comfort zone. For him, he said, when he's in nature, he expects to be a part of it, so things like extreme heat or cold, dampness or dryness, bugs, etc don't bother him (me too). He pointed out that the more you put yourself in situations that are just slightly outside your comfort zone, the more comfortable you become with them, and that's how you expand your comfort zone and tolerance. He said he likes to put himself in situations where he's just a little bit uncomfortable, because expanding one's comfort zone is personal growth. The opposite is true, too, he reflected. People who stay inside with the air conditioning, for instance, might have their comfort zones contract so that something as simple as opening the door (and being faced with the heat and humidity) is out of one's comfort zone. He mentioned that he's very comfortable in nature, but he's quite uncomfortable around negative people, and that that's the next comfort zone he's focusing on purposefully expanding--dealing with and becoming more comfortable with difficult people. I related to this philosophy and liked the visual he was miming with his hands while discussing the phenomenon. What comfort zones are you currently challenging?
Alyssum Pohl is paddling the Mississippi River and documenting water quality and plastic waste along the way.