- Associated Press - Sunday, August 27, 2017

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Every year, people set out to paddle the length of the Mississippi River in canoes or kayaks. Often, it is for some larger purpose, raising awareness or money for a cause.

Not many take the 2,552-mile trip just for fun. That number, however, includes the “Mack Twains.”

Forty-six days after starting their odyssey, Illinois residents Travis, Carrie and Whitney Mack came ashore in Baton Rouge on Aug. 16, four days before completing their odyssey at Head of Passes - Mile 0 on river maps.

“It’s kind of been a bucket-list trip for me for 10 years, and I finally had a chance to do it this summer,” said Travis Mack, 33.

Paddling the Mississippi went on his list during Travis Mack’s first job out of college, where he felt trapped in a cubicle. He and his wife, Carrie, 31, who lives in Bloomington, Illinois, owned a fishing lodge in Ontario, Canada, which they sold this spring. That left them with time on their hands, and, since both are distance runners, they don’t like to sit still.

So, Travis Mack broached the idea to his wife, who agreed. Did she know what she was getting into?

“No. I usually don’t,” Carrie Mack said. “I have 110 percent confidence that if he’s there, it’s going to be a good time. Part of the challenge is what makes it fun.”

Since Whitney Mack, Travis‘ sister, is an outdoorswoman, he asked to borrow some of her gear. A physician who was nearing the end of her residency before beginning a medical fellowship in Peoria, Illinois, Whitney Mack, 30, already had scheduled six weeks off for a backpacking trip. She asked if she could join their journey.

“At first, I don’t know what they thought, but then Carrie figured she’d have an extra person paddling so they’d get down the river faster, and they’d be able to divide up work,” Whitney Mack said. “It’s worked out great.”

Great, however, does not mean without challenges.

Because so little water was flowing out of Lake Itasca, where the river begins in Minnesota, they had to portage the canoe and equipment about 10 times before reaching consistently deep water. High winds on Lake Winnibigoshish sent waves of water into the canoe, creating a scary moment.

In Minneapolis, the current pushed their 18½-foot canoe sideways into a rock, creating a dent that initially seemed like no big deal. By the time they reached Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, the canoe was flexing at that point and needed repairs.

None of the Prairie du Chien marinas could fix it, but they recommended a local auto body shop, which patched it with fiberglass.

“He said it was like working on a Corvette body,” Whitney Mack said. “Now, we have a sturdy canoe.”

That canoe took them through the 29 locks on the Upper Mississippi River. They avoided the heavy barge traffic downstream from where the Ohio River meets the Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois. Storms forced them ashore a few times, a near-daily occurrence when they reached Louisiana.

Unsure how much access they’d have to groceries and other supplies along the way, they sent supply boxes to friends who lived near the river and agreed to bring them when paddlers arrived. The network of river angels included Mike and Lisa Tucker, of Baton Rouge. The Tuckers had never met the Macks, but a mutual friend asked the Tuckers to help them. The local family brought the trio home for a shower, meal and night’s sleep before returning them to the river the next day. Shamrock Marine let the paddlers leave their canoe at its facility overnight.

“The people have been one of the best parts of the trip. Just the generosity of, really, strangers in some cases,” Travis Mack said. “We had people give us water when we were low on water and let us stay at their house, distant relatives and friends of friends like this. It’s been incredible.”

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