What an outstanding outdoor adventure travel book!
Mississippi Solo by Eddy Harris is the story of a man from Saint Louis that gets the idea to canoe the entire length of the Mississippi River from Lake Itasca in Minnesota to New Orleans Louisiana – some 2300 miles! Only problem is he is a city boy and has never done any camping or canoeing.
Wait, that’s not the only problem! He also decides that he’s going to start this adventure in October. October in Minnesota!
Oh, and there’s one more problem – his friends all tell him he’s nuts instead of being helpful and supportive of his adventure.
Oh one more problem – he happens to be a black guy who is canoeing (as he puts it) from Minnesota, where a total of 6 black folks live, through Mississippi and Louisiana where the people have the reputation of not liking black folks much.
Did I say there was just one more problem? Actually the whole voyage was one unique hurdle after another from day-one to the very last day. Along the way he was nearly run over by tug boats and barges, had to figure out how to lock through the various river control structures, lost his canoe for a while, was attacked by wild dogs, was propositioned by a nympho, got in a shoot-out with a couple of greasy rednecks, got his teeth knocked out, and ended up hallucinating about ghost ships.
But he also encountered people that helped him find his lost canoe, gave him rides, showed him around the various river towns, shared their meals with him, warned him of various dangers.
Harris started this journey not sure why he was doing it or what he was looking to find. Maybe he was more in search of himself. Maybe he was trying to figure out where he fit in the world – or if the people up and down the river would even let a black man find a place to fit in.
What he got was a lot more than that! Harris says that he eventually saw so many people, good and bad, that he got to the point that he completely transcended race. He became colorblind and couldn’t tell if any of the people he met were black or white or any other color.
I think that he also discovered a greater sense of agency. That is, that he was largely in control of how people around him treated him and he didn’t need anyone’s permission or cooperation to fit in.
I’d highly recommend this memoir because of the fantastic nature of his Odyssey as well as the homely and engaging voice of the writer.
A charming talk by the author of Mississippi Solo, Eddy Harris