The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

    It never stops


     The answer to boredom and discontent in college culture could easily be solved by spending time in front of a TV or going out with friends.


    However, when simple solutions like that just don’t make the cut, consider what senior Ben Jonas did this past summer — take a canoe packed with supplies and make your way down the Mighty Mississippi.

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    Jonas paddled from Eau Claire to New Orleans for 39 days in canoes and kayaks during his summer vacation earlier this year.


    “I looked out of (my house’s window) and thought, ‘I wonder if that (the Chippewa River) goes to the Mississippi?’” Jonas said.


    He said he wanted to drop out at one point and the spark to set sail came from a discontent with his school career. However, he thought twice about it, as he did not want to bring grief to his parents.


    “If I’m going to drop out, at least I should do something cool,” he said.


    Planning and packing


    “We were actually sitting down in the living room of our house and Ben brought up the idea,” Jonas’ roommate Ben Ludamen said. “I just thought it was one of his ideas and was not really gonna go through with it.”


    Jonas’ other roommate, Clark Etten, said he thought the idea was “really cool.”


    “A lot of people were really skeptical,” he said. “But when (Ben) set his mind to it, I figured that he’d do it.”


    Ludamen added that a week or two before Jonas left, he was still serious.


    “I started believing him more, and then Ben got his stuff together,” he said.


    To prepare, Jonas said he looked up how to pass through lock and dams and where mile markers were. He packed an old tent, rain gear and a canoe. He bought food in bulk, then loaded up his canoe and left.




    Jonas cruised down the river through Wisconsin past La Crosse before he came to the edge of Iowa and met
    Danny Rees.


    Rees, originally from Mississippi, said he heard about Jonas before they even met.


    “I was at a lock and dam they said there was a guy in front of him in a canoe,” Rees said. “I knew I’d catch him.”


    It was in Fulton, Iowa, where Rees and Jonas met for the first time.


    “I think when you’re on the river, your perception is based only on that they’re doing the same thing as you,” said Rees, “so you have something in common right off the bat.”


    “Ben was coming down the hill — wasn’t near his canoe, bopping off this hill and had this smile on his face,” Rees added. “He had a nice smile, and I asked him if we wanted to go get food. I think he was more wary of me than I was of him — he had a big huge knife, and I made a joke about it.”


    Jonas said the two talked for most of the day and night and established a connection.


    “He gave me his number and told me to call him up when I hit Missouri, Jonas said of Rees. “We had this really good understanding of each other.”


    As Jonas continued on, an older couple stopped him and offered him a place to stay. Although apprehensive, Jonas accepted the offer — which included hot food, games of pool, a shower and a copy of “The Grapes of Wrath.”


    “It was just amazing … this feeling over came me … ‘what is going on? I’ve been out in the wilderness for 14 days and all of the sudden I’m in this house playing pool!’ And I wanted to bring a book when I started, but I didn’t bring one,” he said.


    Weathering through storms and wilderness, Jonas finally crossed the border into Missouri. As he neared the halfway mark, he said he stopped in towns along the way and encountered wildlife up close, including the chance to pet small deer.


    But the joy of petting baby animals or seeing Mark Twain’s hometown didn’t match up to the feeling of seeing a bright-lit skyline as the sun went down on the 18th day.


    St. Louis


    “As soon as I got off the phone (with my mom), there in the distance is the skyline — I can see the arch and I just start geeking out. I’m like, ‘Oh my God. There’s St. Louis — I finally made it!’”


    Jonas said he chained up his canoe and walked up the hill
    to the arch.


    “I don’t even know how to describe it. I was so happy. It was the most amazing thing
    I’ve felt.”


    Jonas struggled for words as he described St. Louis.


    “It’s so hard to explain; it’s just nuts,” he said.


    The next day, however, dawned quickly and Jonas realized he was only halfway. Two days later, he met up with Rees for the first
    time in weeks.



    Cape Girardeau, Mo.


    Jonas and Rees met up outside of Girardeau, as Rees called it.


    “As far as physically — he had changed quite a bit. He was scruffy, more ragged from the trip. Ben showed that. There was no doubt about it,”
    Rees said.


    Jonas then proceeded to stay in a Victorian home Rees owned in downtown Girardeau for the majority of the week. There, he went to concerts, explored the small town and met people he still remains in contact with.


    “I was so happy to be there — maybe I was supposed to be here, maybe this was supposed to happen,” Jonas said. “But the river took me here, and I owe it to the river to get back on there and finish this crazy thing I
    had started.”



    Kentucky, Tennessee and Louisiana


    Making good speed in Rees’ kayak and leaving his canoe behind, Jonas rowed through Kentucky and eventually
    into Memphis.


    “Seeing Memphis was like seeing St. Louis, but a little less awesome,” he said. “(I got to) go to the sights. I ate some ribs, met some other travelers and watched bikes — there were like a thousand motorcycles (in town that weekend),”
    he said.


    After Memphis, it was only a matter of time — less than two weeks — before he arrived in New Orleans, 39 days after leaving Eau Claire.


    “It was weird. I would have thought I would have felt like how I did when I saw St. Louis, but it wasn’t. When I got there, it was … it wasn’t empty, but it was the end.”


    30 miles before the Gulf of Mexico, Jonas’ parents met him at an RV park and drove him back to Wisconsin. He said he wasn’t mad he didn’t make it to the Gulf, as New Orleans was his goal — which he had accomplished.


    “I know its really cheesy — they say its not about the destination but all about the journey, but that’s kind of what it was by that point. All the stuff that was going to happen on this trip had happened.”



    The struggles involved


    Jonas spoke of his trip with a positive attitude, even when talking about
    the negative parts.


    “On the river, it’s a roller coaster of emotions. One day it’s hot and tired and you’re not getting far, then the next thing you know you’re favorite song comes on the radio and you’re just
    ready to go.”


    Along the way, he encountered run-ins with flooded boats, passing out, potential canoe thieves and being hit by animals.


    “I got hit by three fish — three flying carp. You stab them, you beat them; they don’t die,” he said laughing.


    Despite the struggles, Jonas plans to head out for more adventures in the future.


    Hitting the trails again


    “(This trip) sounded like an adventure of a lifetime,” Etten said. “Some of the stuff he described was … something you wouldn’t get in your daily life around here.”


    Jonas plans to finish up the river with Rees in the
    upcoming year.


    “We’re talking about making a circle — along the gulf, through Biloxi, St. Louis, making a loop back around into New Orleans and coming back into the Mississippi river,”
    Rees said.


    In addition to finishing the river, Jonas spoke of hopping trains to reach the west coast, sailing across oceans and climbing mountains.


    “I was really impressed that he completed it — I’m excited to hear what he’s doing next,” Ludamen said.


    What will happen next? Not even Jonas knows. He said it himself in the last words of his journal:


    “It never stops.”

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