- Associated Press - Saturday, July 15, 2017

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi has thousands of miles of rivers and streams, and a Pearl man has paddled a number of them for days on end and much of it alone.

Bob May said he has always loved nature, but aches and pains limited his ability to enjoy the outdoors. Around 2000, he found kayaking was his key to getting outside.

“I had some problems with my back,” May said. “Walking, my knees bothered me.

“Riding a bike, my knees bothered me, but I could sit in a boat. I haven’t had any back problems in 10 years and I attribute that to padding and working those muscles.”

And work those muscles he has. May said he’s paddled about 20 different waterways in Mississippi and also said he can’t even begin to guess how many thousands of miles he’s covered.

Covering a lot of miles on rivers in a kayak isn’t all that unusual in Mississippi as paddling is a popular sport, and the state has plenty of paddle-friendly rivers. What’s unusual about May is he does much of it alone and sometimes for a week at a time.

“I’ve been on the Chickasawhay for seven days and six nights and never saw another person,” May said. “That’s relaxing.

“I did the Mississippi River from Vicksburg to Natchez by myself. A lot of times I go alone. I feel safer by myself because I don’t have to take care of anyone else.”

Not seeing another human for seven days would sound as if May was disconnected from society. In reality, May said he isn’t.

“You still have access to the world,” May said. “Most places have cell service.”

Peaceful paddling is one thing May likes, but he said there is more to enjoy. The rivers have been carving through the landscape for thousands of years and offer a glimpse into the state’s past. May said he’s found petrified wood, native American artifacts and items that are much older.

“I’ve found sharks’ teeth and sand dollars estimated to be 50,000 years old,” May said. “That’s not me saying it, that’s the people down at the (Mississippi) Natural Science Museum saying it. That’s just hard to comprehend.”

Then there is the wildlife. May said he regularly sees deer and wild hogs as he silently moves through the water. He also has opportunities to view swallowtail kites, ospreys and an occasional eagle.

“There is just so much to see,” May said.

The best part of his time on the water starts when he stops to make camp.

“Most people have to go home before dark,” May said. “They’re missing the best part.

“At nighttime, a whole different world opens up. You hear the owls and see animals and raccoons. On a clear night, you see a lot of stuff. I think I’ve seen a space station. Falling stars; that’s always a thrill. It’s hard to see them in town.”

Snakes, alligators and things that go bump in the night don’t bother him. He said his biggest fear is coming across the wrong person, and May makes efforts to avoid unwanted meetings.

“If I see 4-wheeler tracks on a sandbar, I don’t camp there,” May said. “They might decide to come back in the middle of the night.”

As another safety precaution, May said he leaves a map and detailed float plan with his wife in the event he doesn’t return at the expected time.

Packing for a trip is also detailed. May said discovering you’ve forgotten something a few days into a seven-day trip is not an ideal situation.

“I’ve got a list,” May said. “You don’t want to forget anything because there aren’t many 7-11s (convenience stores) on the rivers.

“The key is you want to have dry clothes, water and plenty of food. I carry extra food.”

He also carries several survival items in the pockets of his personal floatation device, which he wears whenever he’s on the water.

“Always wear a lifejacket,” May said. “I don’t care how good of a swimmer you are.”

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