Across Waters to the Mississippi River Adventure

Guest Author: Rania Mirabueno


Adventurers canoeing 2320 miles of the Mississippi River.

As I recall my beautiful houseboat experience in the backwaters of Kerala with River Escapes, I cannot help but think across waters to four adventurers, who are embarking on a journey with two canoes and 2320 miles of rafting across 10 US states on the Mississippi River.


We are on a River Escapes Houseboat having a Kerala meal on a banana leaf. Karen Chi-Chi Lin (left) and Rania Mirabueno (right).

Riverview Mapping Project

Four friends are on a journey of a lifetime taking a 60-day adventure as part of a kick-off for Below the Surface, a nonprofit that hopes to use digital media to connect humans to river systems. Think of it like Google Streetview. They are documenting 2320 miles of the Mississippi River from the headwaters at Lake Itasca to the mouth at Gulf of Mexico.

It’s called Riverview Mapping Project, a portal through the Internet to connect to the river showcasing hundreds of pictures of the waterscape, topography and stories from the community (not a typo!). The boys started dreaming of this trip since freshman year of college and six years later they are on the river with sponsorship from the EPA, Outside Magazine, Patagonia, and Cliff Bars. Riverview will launch later this year.

The Riverview story was featured on the local news, check it out!

Meet the boys:


Hometown Frozen Custard in Minnetonka, Minnesota.
Left to Right: Jonathan Sawyer, Jeff Nelson, Ben Theimer and Mark Downey.

Mark Downey, graduate from Duke Forestry with a focus on sustainable tropical timber forest practices, Jonathan Sawyer, a comprehensive urban planner from Colorado Springs, Ben Theimer, a past Teach for America volunteer, now a professional from Denver and Jeff Nelson, community enabler of youth programs in Costa Rica.

Scenic Landscapes 


Early start on the river with a beautiful sunrise in Helena, Arkansas!

The river is like a mother: it starts out kind and nurturing in Minnesota and gradually releases the grip as knowledge matures while river gets more dangerous, ultimately shooting out into the “real world” of the Gulf of Mexico.


Beautiful Tennessee bluffs, headed for another 60 mile paddle-day!

Scenery on the river is phenomenal the whole way through with colorful woodlands in Minnesota, four hundred foot bluffs in Wisconsin and Iowa, Huckleberry Finn’s stomping grounds in Illinois and Missouri, massive sandbars in Tennessee and Arkansas, and delta flatlands in Mississippi and Louisiana.


Campsite Lagoon around a missive sandbar in Tennessee. Amazing clouds!

Collision of natural and human environments

1. One day bald eagles soar above the boats for hours as if there is a friendship between species (humans and eagles), but the next day there are heaps of dead fish belly-up on the river because of water quality or being hit by barges.


Mississippi River mud and snacks from sponsor of organic trailmix.

2. Introduction of invasive species such as Zebra Mussels or Asian Carp threatens the well being of indigenous aquatic ecology.


Look at last year’s mud island mark- what a remarkable difference!

3. Nitrogen from agricultural fertilizers gets swept down the river creating algae blooms that literally suck the life out of parts of the Gulf of Mexico in what is infamously dubbed “The Dead Zone.”


Stormwater runoff from a drain in Memphis onto the Mississippi river.

4. Deforestation near the river for agricultural uses, particularly in states like Mississippi and Arkansas, has led to soil instability leading to less productive farmland, loss in biomass, and more severe flooding.

Stories of the River: River rats


A catfish catch on the Mississippi River from Gary, a river rat!

“The people are the most fun part of the trip,” Jonathan Sawyer explains, “townies in the north, farmers in the Midwest, and eccentric voodoo spiritualists in the Deep South.”

These are the people the Riverview Team has met so far:

1. “Big Muddy” Mike: River guide who has a hard time when not on the river. Mike gave the boys a new river raft at no cost!


The river brings out the best in people- Riverview boys met Phil, Steiny and the kids on the river and was offered lunch.

2. Phil and Steiny and kids: gave the boys catfish that they ate in sandwiches and who told their elementary school kids in their backwoods accent to “get these boys some beers.”


Lunch with the family who made catfish sandwiches.

3. River Jon the man who spun fiction as fact: told stories of giant man-eating birds of Native American times.

4. Justus and Becca: cosmopolitan boaters from NYC in a homemade houseboat who are fun people and adventures at heart.


The name was inspired by Justus’ great great grandmother who said that, “in life, too many people have really big wanters and ity bitty getters.”

5. John “River Jesus” Ruskey is like Crush from finding Nemo, sees the big picture and always having an “oarsome” time, says “alright” all the time in a lazy voice and is an eternal optimist.


Mark Downey checking out John Ruskey’s boats for the river.

 About the author: My passion is for equitable design for people and the land. I am working towards a Masters of Landscape Architecture at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. I hold bachelors degrees of Environmental Design and Music Performance.

8 thoughts on “Across Waters to the Mississippi River Adventure

    • Thanks! Although I can’t be on the river with Jonathan Sawyer, love is across waters from Kerala backwaters to the Mississippi River! Looking forward to future development with your collaborative artist colony Chi-Chi!

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