Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A debt of gratitude (section by section)

Well, here it goes. I have divided the trip into a couple of sections: Planning, Upper Missouri, Lower Missouri, Lower Mississippi.


Thank you to Carol and Dave Diephuis, some of my greatest supporters and my aunt and uncle. From the first time I told them about the trip they were supportive and provided me so much guidance both in the planning and during the trip. I would also like to thank them for contacting so many of the media groups on my way down the river.

A special thanks to Dean Pearson of the University of Virginia Medical School. Dean Pearson was willing to allow one of his students to head out of school for a year and I sincerely appreciate his support.

I would like to thank the following doctors at the University of Virginia who encouraged me to pursue this challenge: Dr. Holstege, Dr. Calhoun, Dr. Schirmer, Dr. Friel, Dr. Hallowell and Dr. Hedrick.

Brett Beel and Jim Heckman, my roomates at the University of Virginia, who were gracious enough to allow me to store all my gear and a 17 foot kayak in our already small and cramped apartment. Thanks hombres!

Thanks to all my classmates at UVa med! You all know who you are, who never told me the idea was too crazy. I consider myself privileged to have been able to spend the past three years with you all.

Thanks to Bill Thompson at Rocky Top Rec in Charlottesville, VA. Without all the training I did beforehand I would not have been able to finish this trip. An "old" man once told me that a person can do anything for three months!

Upper Missouri

A special thanks again to my Dad here too! He helped me drive from Charlottesville to Three Forks, MT in a two day push and then drove my truck back down to CO! Thanks again Dad.

Norm Miller: Person, Paddler, Legend. Norm contacted me shortly before the trip started with a huge email with photos, advice, places to see and places to avoid. Not only is Norm a paddling animal (he paddled upstream from St. Louis-Three Forks) but he is also incredibly nice and helpful to fellow paddlers. Norm helped put me in up at Three Forks, MT and drove 3hrs north to help portage me around Great Falls. In addition Norm put me in contact with many of his friends further on down the river. Norm, thank you very much for all your help!

Thanks to Jason Savage. The photos were awesome! Thanks a bunch.

Thanks to Mark Schaefer, Park Ranger at the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument. Mark came by and talked with for awhile during my rest day in Ft. Benton about all things Upper Missouri river. Thanks for the advice!

Thanks to Tara Waterson and all the folks at the Fort Peck Marina. In addition to great hospitality they are truly wonderful folks. The burger was excellent after Ft. Peck Reservoir!!!

Zane Squires. Wow, what a paddler. I bumped into Zane at the Ft. Peck Marina and we hit it off right away. Zane is paddling down in a canoe behind me with his dog pickles. Zane, thank you very much for showing me around Ft. Peck. Even more, thanks for the great company and advice about the river. It truly is about the experience and not the end result!

Thanks to all the folks in Culbertson, MT. What a great bar-b-que and barn dance.

Special thanks to Linda Godejohn who helped me resupply in Williston, ND. Thank you very much.

My Uncle David Johnston. Dave helped me with so many aspects of the trip I didn't know where exactly to thank him. Dave was super supportive early on in the planning and helped put me in contact with sponsors as well as provided some experience with trip planning. Dave really put a cherry on top by driving down from Minnesota to Lake Sakakawea, sitting in a small aluminum canoe for 5 hours and praying to the gods of the lake while motoring out to find me in the middle of nowhere. Dave even brought steaks! Dave was my support during the overnight paddle to finish off Sakakawea and I am so thankful for all he did to make this trip a success. Thanks Dave!

Another thanks is appropriate here for my Mom who flew out to meet me when I arrived in Bismark. Thanks Mom!

I would like to thank the following folks in Bismarck: Gail and Ed Breckel Laurie J. Edinger, Vern Fetch, Colleen and Jasper Kleinjan. Thank you all so much for your hospitality.

Many thanks to Ben and Rick Nelson for their hospitality, coffee and a ham sandwich.

Thanks to John Adler and Pat Wellner for their hospitality in Pierre. Go Missouri River Pirates!

A special thanks to Kelly and Becky Lane. I had such a wonderful time getting to meet you both and "crick" boating was awesome. Kelly Lane, who has Parkinson's is truly an inspirational human being and I felt privileged to have been able to meet him.

Lower Missouri

Thank you to the Lewis and Clark State Park Rangers John, Austin and Dale for helping me around Lewis and Clark Lake. You guys rock!

Thanks to Redetta and Roy Jensen for helping me resupply in Yankton, SD.

Special thanks to Lynn Scott, Dave Olson and Rebel. Thank you for your hospitality after Lewis and Clark Lake in Yankton. I would also like to thank you for all the words of support and encouragement both in the trip and with life in general. Thank you for the steaks and twice baked potatoes in Omaha too! They were delicious.

Thanks to Paul Guggenheimer for his continued support of the project and great interviews!

Thanks to Zeke and Chelsea in northwestern MO for the birthday breakfast!

Special thanks to Kara and Chris Athey for letting a dirty river rat stay at their pad in Kansas City! Thank you both very much for all your hospitality.

Special thanks to Gary and Marsha Leabman from Spirit Hill Guest House. They took me in for a day, organized a fundraiser, organized a flotilla, and showed me one of the more beautiful views from their front porch on the entire Missouri River. Thanks!

Thanks to Susan Haley for a wonderful massage!

Thanks to Elaine Hinds for helping contact local media.

An incredible thanks to Judge Dave and Mrs. Janet Hoven who shuttled me around the greater St. Louis area for 5 days. They not only took me into their home but organized a party for me and had such wonderful hospitality.

Thanks to Niels van den Boogert for helping organize transport of the Mary Agnes from New Orleans.

Lower Mississippi

Thanks to Jay Boyd for a delicious bar-b-que in "the Cape."

Special thanks to Betty and Michael Rudolph (aunt and uncle) who drove out from Washington D.C. to come say hi. Thank you very much for the hotel room and the good laughs around the greased food of Caruthersville!

Special thanks to my Grandma Margaret and Walter who drove from California to see me just north of Memphis. Thanks for the McDonald's and the great memories!

Special thanks to John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company. John provided inspiration, guidance, advice and true Southern hospitality in the home of the Delta Blues, Clarksdale, MS. May the river be with you!

Thanks to all of the kind folks of Tito's Sandbar!

Special thanks to Michael Beck of Baton Rouge, LA. I really appreciated you taking me around the town and showing me what Baton Rouge had to offer! Thanks also for the advice about Venice.

Thanks to all the kind folks of the Cypress Cove Marina who provided awesome hospitality and help in finishing off my trip.

Thanks to Marc Trembly for helping me get my boat back from New Orleans, LA to CO!

Another special thank you to my parents who made my homecoming in New Orleans possible. Meeting with Grandma and Grandpa, Jared, Mark, Cody, Rick and Erin meant the world to me. Thank you once again.

Finally I would like to thank everyone who has been following along this blog for the past 3 months. It certainly has been a wild adventure and I hope that you all have enjoyed following along. On days when I was just too tired to paddle one more stroke, knowing that you were all there with me got me into camp. Thank you all very much.


Joe Forrester

A debt of gratitude

Well bloggers, what a week it has been!

After the several days of celebration in New Orleans with my brother Jared, parents, grandparents, Mark, Cody, Rick(the designer of the website, and his wife Erin, I have finally arrived back in Colorado. Even though the sunburns and soreness have started fading, my mind still is caught by the river. I wake up at night confused about where I am, thinking that I need to paddle another 60 miles tomorrow! With time I know that these dreams will pass, but for now they remain a part of me. That being said it is time to thank all of the folks that made this trip a success. This will be long, so hold on tight. I am going to do a general thanks first followed by my corporate sponsors, followed by blog divided by sections of the river.

First I would like to thank my parents, Joe and Bonnie. They have been my greatest "sponsor" on the trip and without their financial support this trip would not have been possible. More importantly though they are the ones responsible for instilling in me the stubbornness that allowed me to push as hard as I did. Their love, support and guidance kept me strong when I was tired and I am eternally indebted to them for their support of such an "adventurous child". I know that it must be very difficult to see your son do such things, and I thank them for trusting me and giving me the chance to see what I can accomplish.

Next I would like to thank my brother, Jared Forrester. Jared is single-handedly responsible for the extremely high quality blogging that allowed everyone following along to enjoy the trip. Not only was he working full-time and applying to medical school, but he also found the time to put together the blogs you all came to know and love. In addition, I became closer to my brother than ever before on this trip. We talked every night, and when the going got tough he provided the motivation to keep pushing on when I was too hot/cold/tired to continue on. Jared, thank you for all you have helped me with.

I would like to thank my grandfather, Joe Forrester, for allowing me to tell so many people about such a personal issue. Not everyone would allow their life to be broadcast over the internet, let alone the disease that they face on a daily basis. Thank you for all your support.

Finally, I would like to thank everyone who donated to the National Parkinson Foundation on behalf of Paddling for Parkinson's. Without your generous support we would never have raised $20,000! Way to go team! We did it!

Now I would like to take the time to thank my Corporate sponsors:

Rick White, the owner of, was the mastermind behind the website which allowed everyone to follow along with the journey. When I originally contacted Rick in January 2009, I threw out some ideas for the website and Rick just took them and ran with them. Rick not only created the website, designing the map tracking function and integrating it seamlessly, but he also put up with my relative lack of computer knowledge, helping guide me through the site construction. Rick was incredibly easy to work with and always found a way to get information in a coherent fashion so that you all could follow along. Without Rick and, the trip would not have been what it was for everyone following along. If you liked the website, kick Rick an email and let him know. He truly is a computer stud!

Current Designs

Without the support of Mike Cichanowski and Jake Greseth of Current Designs, this trip would never even have gotten off the ground. When I first called Mr. Cichanowski and discussed my trip with him he immediately agreed to help me out with a reduced price boat and Jake Greseth helped make that happen. My Storm GT "The Mary Agnes" was the perfect boat for this trip. She had enough room to allow me to carry enough supplies for the journey, but was sleek enough to make paddling a relative breeze. What I was most impressed with was her durability. While I tried to be as kind as possible to her, scree, rip-rap, and concrete are a part of life on the river. She withstood a ton of stress and is still kickin! If you are interested in a boat I would highly recommend you check out Current Designs really make a great product and the staff is awesome.

Werner Paddles

Thank you to Jim Miller and Werner Paddles. When I first contacted Jim Miller the response I got was where do you need the bent shaft Camano sent to and when does it need to get there. Jim Miller at Werner Paddles was very supportive of the trip. My bent shaft Camano was a lifesaver. I have had two shoulder reconstructions and too many dislocations to count and I was apprehensive before the trip about how my shoulders would hold up to such repeated abuse. While I was tired at the end, my shoulders, elbows and hands felt better than I expected. Even with my vigilance about stretching, I attribute this absence of chronic injury to paddling with a superior paddle. The bent-shaft Camano was awesome, and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in paddling longer distances.


A special thanks to Blake Longworth and Casey Worzella of NRS. These guys rock! They provided almost all of my soft good gear I needed for the trip. When I needed a new PFD sent out upon arriving in Washington, MO, Blake sent out the Clearwater PFD right away. Switching to that PFD made paddling much cooler and helped allowed my body to paddle better. The FullZip SeaTour Jacket was essential to my survival when I was snowed on up in Montana and kept me dry in the deluges I experienced in Nebraska. This jacket rocks, check it out! NRS also provided me the NRS deckbag which became like a second piece of clothing to me. I was able to keep all my deck gear organized in one place which was critical in allowing me to paddle the distances I did each day. NRS Neo Tour spray skirt kept me dry and warm in the cold weather up in Montana as did the Mamba mits. NRS was so supportive of my trip and I am very thankful for all that they have done for the trip. Make sure to check out their website!

Standard Horizon

Thanks to Jason Kennedy at Standard Horizon. Like Jim Miller, when I contacted Jason Kennedy, I received the reply, where do you need it send and when does it need to get there! The HX471S was a superior product and directly contributed to my safety and success on my 3,461 mile river odyssey. There are two occasions in particular that highlight the necessity of having such a dependable VHF radio. While I was crossing Lake Sakakawea in North Dakota, I was hit by several large storms, some producing very high winds (75-85 mph) frequent lightning and heavy rain. I depended on the ability of the HX471S to provide reliable access to the NOAA weather reports in order to stay on top of the weather. This reliance became most poignant when a tornado touched down 2 miles from my camp.

The second example of when the HX471S was an essential piece of gear was during my passage through the lower Mississippi in New Orleans, Louisiana. New Orleans is an incredibly busy port with significant tow, barge and super-freighter activity. Being a 17-foot kayak passing through these waters is akin to an ant attempting to cross Times Square. My safety directly depended on my HX471S because this was my only way I could communicate with the tow and super-freighter captains. Without the dependability of the HX471S I have doubts as to whether or not I would have made it through New Orleans safely. Thanks to Standard Horizon and Jason Kennedy!

The Medical Center of Aurora

Thank you to John Hill, Bill Voloch and Jennifer Barry of the Medical Center of Aurora. I approached Mr. Hill and Mr. Voloch about the trip, discussed what I was planning and they asked how they could help. Not only did they provide a significant financial donation to the National Parkinson Foundation on behalf of my trip, but they also sent me a soft-shell jacket and quick-wick tee shirt which I wore all the time. Mr. John Hill also provided a recommendation, suggesting I contact Hilleberg Tents about a potential sponsorship. Thank you to John Hill, Bill Voloch and Jennifer Barry for their support!

Hilleberg Tents

After talking with John Hill of the Medical Center of Aurora, I contacted Petra Hilleberg of Hilleberg. She agreed to provide me a Nallo 2 GT tent at a reduced cost. On an expedition as long as this trip, the quality of a tent is put to the test. I was not disappointed at all. Not only did the tent repeatedly withstand 50+ mph winds, but also made it through a tornado. I was a little concerned before the trip about how the tent would handle repeated sandbar camps, but once again I was proved wrong. I did not have a problem with any of the poles and had only one zipper get stuck which is pretty amazing. I was very happy with the Nallo 2 GT.

Conway Shipping

A special thanks to Conway Shipping for helping me get the Mary Agnes back from New Orleans, LA to Denver, CO. They made the whole issue of shipping a 17 foot boat a breeze and I am very thankful for their help.

Stay tuned to the next blog for section by section thanks.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Final Day

Hello to all you bloggers out there from New Orleans, LA!

Well, yesterday was officially my last day on the river. After the 5 day push from Baton Rouge to Venice I was exhausted and needed a rest day before the final push from Venice to the Head of Passes. The folks at Cypress Grove Marina ( were incredibly nice and it was great to just kick back and the marina and recuperate. On the night of the 3rd, I could barely sleep. I was nervous and anxious about the final twelve miles. While the trip had been an overwhelming success from both a fundraising and safe travel perspective, and most would say that stopping in New Orleans would have been sufficient, I knew deep in my heart that those final twelve miles had been what I had been holding on to for the past several hundred miles. I had thought so long about what the Head of the Passes must look like, and what it would feel like to finally have finished the river. Many a sweaty night had been spent in the tent, surrounded by mosquitoes, dreaming of those final twelve miles.

One thing that I have come to appreciate on this trip is that each successf
ul day is a gift on the river. She(the river) always has tricks up her sleeves and passage is never guaranteed. All night long I quelled my own self doubt and was grateful when I finally fell asleep.

(Sunrise on Cypress Cove Marina)

At 5:30 am I woke in the dark and started getting together what I would need for the day. I brought my tent and stove in case of an emergency, some water, minimal food, my .mp3 player, my Standard Horizon VHF, and the camera. Any other superfluous gear was left behind. After gobbling down two breakfast sandwiches and coffee at Cypress Cove, I got into the Mary Agnes for the last time and started paddling back out the Venice Jump towards the Mississippi. She might have flowed down a bit further but she was still there, waiting for me to make my final move.

Pointing the nose of my kayak southeast toward the Gulf, I had a stiff headwind. The current had died down to near non-existence and I found myself reminiscing about the reservoirs as I paddled in the early morning sun.

(Paddling toward the Gulf and into the storm)

The closer I came to my final destination, the more ominous the weather became. Clouds started stacking up on the Gulf and I could start to see lighting. Counting out the distance, I knew that most of the strikes were over 5 miles away, but nonetheless I became increasingly concerned. By the time I had passed Pilot Town, about two miles upstream from the Head of the Passes, I wasn't sure if I would be able to finish; the weather looked ominous. I even took some rather depressing footage of myself lamenting the fact that I had paddled so far only to be turned back in the last mile.

As I waited around Pilot Town, the weather began clearing a bit, a sucker hole formed. I knew that the time had come to make a decision, that my chance to finish was presenting itself. I also knew that I would not have much time. I left the west back and headed out into the middle of the channel paddling hard. The wind had kicked some pretty rough seas and it was hard work churning myself out to where the Head of the Passes started. When I arrived out in the middle of the water, at the end of the Mississippi River, at the end of my journey, I
stopped for a moment and looked around. The three passes lead out to the Gulf, I could smell the organic salty breeze of the Gulf storm, and I knew that I was done. Deep in my soul I was content. I had found where this river had led me, and I knew that I was done.

(The final bouy down at the Head of the Passes)
(At the Head of The Passes and the End of the Mississippi River)

It seemed that mother nature herself agreed that the Head of the Passes would be the furthest I would travel. As I sprinted back to the shore, the sucker hole that had drawn me out to the Head closed and the sky became dark. Rain started pouring down and lightning filled the Southern sky. My fears of the night before had come true, this river that I had come so attached to was testing me once more. I paddled hard back upstream until I was comfortably out of range of the lighting and then opened the sail. I have not yet found the words that appropriately describe the satisfaction I felt as I sailed on the upstream side of the squall edge back up to Venice. Perhaps I will someday, but for now, that is a feeling and experience that just "was".

(The storm)
When I arrived back in Venice, I sat up on the deck of the Harbor Seafood and Oyster Bar and just relaxed. Phone calls started pouring in, and I talked with family and friends. The folks at the Cypress Cove Lodge gave me a room where I could take a shower and nap, and before long my mom, brother and buddy Cody showed up.

Mother (Bonnie Forrester), Joe, and brother (Jared) at the Cypress Cove Lodge in Venice, LA. (Photo courtesy of Cody Nenadal)

We strapped the Mary Agnes on top and headed up to New Orleans where the rest of party awaited.

Now, here is the plan for the next couple of blogs. Over the next several days I will be writing several blogs looking back over the trip including several Top 10 lists, gear reviews and most importantly a Thank You blog. So, even though the paddling is done I will still be active on the blog over the next several days so make sure to check back in.

Paddling done,


Friday, September 4, 2009

Rest Day in Venice before the Final Push!


Here is just a quick update, before a blog entry upon Joe’s completion tomorrow morning. Joe did make it to Venice on Wednesday night after a long push. It was a precarious paddle as there were some interesting critters joining him while paddling. Multiple alligators and bull sharks were in the water, making for a stressful day and utter delight upon pulling into Venice late Wednesday. He arrived just as dusk was arriving and was a little stressed by not immediately finding the lodge. After some night time detective work, Joe was able to find the Cypress Cove Lodge and unpacked after the strenuous last few days from New Orleans. He was so relieved to camp up and get some well deserved sleep that he took a rest day today (Thursday) and will be paddling the final 12 mile stretch tomorrow (Friday) morning.

Joe is so excited to see the Gulf of Mexico tomorrow, which will complete his paddle down the Missouri/Mississippi Rivers! Hard to believe that around 3 months ago, with the help of Norm Miller and the older Joe Forrester, he put-in at Three Forks, Montana.

A "clean cut" Joe before departing down the Missouri River on June 2, 2009. Top Picture is with Norm Miller, bottom picture is with our father, Joseph Forrester

In reaching the gulf tomorrow, he will then have to make it back to Venice, LA for pick up. He will hopefully get a ride back from a boat, and if not, he will do the 24 mile roundtrip as the final day of paddling.

We are flying out to New Orleans early tomorrow, which should give us enough time to drive down to Venice, pick Joe up, and drive back to New Orleans before it gets too late. Once back in New Orleans, Joe or I will make a blog entry and look forward to celebrating and updating the community at that time.

One last paddle on,


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Departing New Orleans on approach to Venice, LA


Joe has now passed through his original goal of New Orleans and is within a couple days reach of the final destination of the trip: the Gulf of Mexico! The past two days have been hectic on the river. Barges and super freighters have made for slower and more stressful paddling. Having to avoid these huge structures, while still putting in long miles, have made Joe very excited for the completion of the journey. The man made river traffic was not the only sighting on the river yesterday; Joe spotted a 7 foot alligator close by to the kayak. He was both excited to see it while apprehensive of approaching too close to this common inhabitant of the swampland of Louisiana. Joe passed by the animal and continued on, in his words, “playing Frogger with the other river traffic.”

Usually, without too much planning, Joe can find a suitable sandbar or campsite to set up for the night. That was not the case last night as Joe had to spend a restless night camped in the industrial section of New Orleans. He got very little sleep, always on edge from the river traffic and “unique” camp surroundings. He set out this morning, super tired from the night, but ready to push on through the swamp.

(Paddling through downtown New Orleans)

(The third nearly full moon I saw. A superfreighter is in the distance)

Today (Tuesday), Joe again encountered heavy river traffic. He received a warm welcome from the ships today though. One barge gave an encouraging honk, followed by the Captain coming out on deck and waving him along. The port authority also flashed their lights, recognizing the tiny red Mary Agnes on the water. Once past the main industrial section of New Orleans, the traffic calm slightly and Joe was able to better appreciate the river jungle that is surrounding him. Joe likes the finishing environment: every minute presents another challenge that is keeping him vigilant. The swamp is different from every other place on the river thus far. “Everything tries to eat you out here….I’m getting no rest or relaxation because I’m always doing something,” referring to the alligators, mosquitoes, and river traffic that are making this section interesting.

The Mississippi River Delta from space (photo from

Tomorrow (Wednesday), Joe will make a push to Venice, LA, the final civilization stop on his journey. The town is 46 to 47 miles away from his current sandbar campsite.

(Sandbar camp. The crawfish crawled from the water through my camp. This photo was taken when the water was low)

(This what I did when I was awoken by a crawfish in my tent. I think I was pretty sleep deprived at this point)
(The midnight intruder)

(Sunset from the sandbar camp)

He will try and rest up at the Cypress Cove Lodge before a final push to the Gulf. Joe will then try and arrange a ride back up to Venice, where we will pick him up and take him back to the Big Easy to celebrate this amazing accomplishment.

(Getting close to the Gulf)

As for myself, I begin my travels from San Diego, via Denver, to New Orleans tomorrow morning. I will have limited internet access over the next couple of days, but will be sure to update you all on Joe’s completion of the journey. Joe would like to thank everyone who has been emailing and calling him with congratulatory remarks; he really could not have done it without all your support, hospitality, companionship, goodwill, and generosity! Also, Joe would like to thank the barges and port authority for the relatively safe passage through this busy thoroughfare. This journey has been simply amazing and I look forward to a final update once Joe looks out on the Gulf of Mexico and returns safely to Venice.

Paddle on,