2,320 miles: Mississippi man paddles Mississippi River
By BRIAN BROOM
Sep. 09, 2018
VICKSBURG, Miss. (AP) — Fueled by a love of the outdoors and a desire to preserve it, a Mississippi man is on a solo trip paddling the length of the Mississippi River.
"I guess it would be fair to call me an adventurer, at least that's how it all began as a young man," said Matt Briggs of Jackson. "I did not have any male friends living near me when I was young.
"The fence in our backyard marked the city limits line and woods and old fields lay beyond. I spent most all of my free time exploring the woods and creeks. I would follow a creek for miles and miles just to see what lay beyond the next bend or over the hill. Later my parents put me into Boy Scouts and always found a way to pay for extended hiking, canoeing and camping trips in other parts of the country."
Two years ago that spirit of adventure drove him to hike 2,189 miles on the Appalachian Trail, but even before he finished his seven-month hike, he was thinking about his next challenge.
"Toward the end of that I kind of started thinking there's got to be another journey I can do that's several thousand miles and would take me through my part of the country," Briggs said. "Something that wasn't walking."
Not long after he finished his hike, Briggs visited his father in Memphis and the two went fishing on the Mississippi River. Briggs said he met a man in a canoe who was paddling the river. A week later Briggs was fishing on the Mississippi River with a friend near Vicksburg and he encountered the same canoeist.
"He was paddling the whole river," Briggs said. "It was an inspiration that was in the back of my mind."
Settling back into normal life in Jackson, Briggs heard the news about access to the Barnett Reservoir spillway possibly being restricted due to the amount of littering in the area. It was a place he remembered well from his childhood, but what it become was quite different.
"When I came home and went to the spillway to fish I was shocked," Briggs said. "I started picking up trash on my own."
He joined a group of others who were concerned about the health of the Pearl River and saw that grassroots efforts can make a difference. He then decided to make his Mississippi River trip a reality and hopefully raise awareness and money for river conservation.
"The Pearl River really didn't fit since it's not in the Mississippi River watershed, so I started thinking," Briggs said. That led him to a river he knew of from visits with relatives in Memphis.
"I was familiar with the Wolf River Conservancy group," Briggs said. "Over the last 15 years they've really cleaned it up. With the Wolf River being a tributary, they seemed like a good group to partner with."
In June, Briggs started his journey at Lake Itasca where the Mississippi River begins in Minnesota.
"The river here starts as a small stream about 8 feet wide and 8 inches deep, a far cry from the giant muddy milkshake I knew from home in Mississippi," Briggs wrote in a blog entry. "The river twisted and turned through the woods for about half a mile before entering its first section of marsh were it grew to 3 to 4 deep but still very narrow."
Along the way his canoe became a garbage barge.
Leading by example
"Man, there's trash everywhere," Briggs said. "I stop along the way and pick up trash, so I always have a lot of trash in the boat."
He also stops and talks with boaters to help raise awareness about litter.
"I talk to them about litter in the river and how they can incorporate into their time on the river spending 20 or 30 minutes to clean up," Briggs said. "I also ask them, 'Hey, can you take this trash back to the landing, a dumpster or a trash can?'
"Basically, so I can get it out of the boat so I can have room to pick up more. I think that's a first easy step to get them to start picking up and being more conscious."
Briggs has traveled 1,750 miles so far. He stopped at Vicksburg last week to return home for a few days before finishing his trip. The people he's met, he said, have been the biggest highlight.
"The people are skiing and fishing and they ask what you're doing. They give you beer, snacks or whatever they have," he said.
"The other big highlight is the sheer amount of wildlife I've been able to see — deer, thousands of bald eagles and osprey," he said. "I saw my first bear track in Mississippi below Tunica. It's like, 'Hey, they're back.'"
In Minnesota, he spotted antlers sticking out of a bank.
"I just caught a glimpse of it like you do when you're in a (deer hunting) stand," Briggs said. "I thought it was a deer antler.
"When I pulled it out it was part of an elk rack. Elk have been extinct there for 150 years."
There have been challenges, too. Briggs said he became frustrated at times because wind, current and other conditions slowed his progress, but he learned to accept he is at the mercy of the river.
"You've got to slow down to 'river time,'" Briggs said.
Then there is isolation.
"For the majority of the river you pass quite a few towns that are right on the river," Briggs said. "When you get below Memphis the towns are pushed back.
"This last stretch — eight days I saw no one. After day six you're talking to yourself, Asian carp and the birds around you."
But he hasn't resorted to talking to a volleyball named Wilson like actor Tom Hanks did in the movie "Castaway."
"No, no volleyball," Briggs said. "I have a little wireless speaker and I listen to the radio.
"I just take it all in and enjoy the river. Sometimes you get tired of the isolation and the food you're eating, but for me, that beauty makes it all worthwhile. The sunsets are so large.
"It's beauty and wonder, but at the same time it reminds me I'm so insignificant. I'm no more significant than a piece of sand on that sandbar. We have a self-inflated opinion of who we are, but you get out there you realize we are a blink of an eye."
Follow his journey
Briggs planned to resume his paddling adventure on Sept. 4 from Vicksburg. To follow his journey, visit his blog at www.sourcetosealitterfree.blogspot.com. To donate to Wolf River Conservancy, visit www.wolfriver.org.
Information from: The Clarion Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com