He conquered its spelling in grade school, and now he plans to conquer the river itself. All 2,350 miles of it.
On July 1, Tavakoli, an Eagle Scout, and his girlfriend, Julie Haskell, will begin a canoe trip down the Mighty Mississippi. They’ll paddle the length of the third-longest river in North America, beginning at its source at Lake Itasca in Minnesota and ending in the Gulf of Mexico.
Canoeing and camping skills honed in Scouting will serve Tavakoli, 29, quite well during the journey he expects will take between 70 and 90 days.
The river’s fun-to-spell name was what first hooked Tavakoli, and his interest in in the Mississippi River has only grown since.
“The river is a piece of Americana,” he says. “It drives itself through the middle of our country. I guess as a kid I had always looked at it in awe and read about it in books. Then it kind of faded away to the back of my mind.”
That’s until August 2009 when Tavakoli took a solo bike trip from Boston to Key West, Fla. He stayed in Florida with his grandfather for several months before bicycling back to Boston. His total tour was about 4,000 miles, he says.
“Along the way I met so many generous and kind people,” Tavakoli says. “I experienced life at a different pace.”
Recently he began thinking a lot about another long trip. A chance, he says, “to get back that spirit of adventure, that independence, that freedom. To reset and to challenge myself.”
He turned once again to the Mississippi River, and that dream of another epic journey will soon become a reality when he and Haskell push their 17-foot Kevlar canoe into the headwaters of the Mississippi.
What’s the takeaway?
“If you want something in life,” he says, “all you have to do is believe in it, visualize it, plan it, and follow through with it.”
Q&A with Jake Tavakoli
Bryan Wendell: Do you have a set itinerary?
Jake Tavakoli: I wasn’t really sure what to expect, so making an itinerary wasn’t too important for me. We’re leaving on July 1, and we expect the paddle will take between 70 and 90 days depending on conditions. Part of the fun is not knowing what to expect.
B.W.: Will you be making stops along the way?
J.T.: We’ll be stopping to camp every night. I’m hoping to get some help at marinas and such for water and bathing when possible. Aside from that, we’ll make food stops when necessary. We might stop at a few historic sites. We might decide to take a night out in a small town. We’re looking to experience life on the river and whatever might come our way.
B.W.: What gear will you be using?
J.T.: We’ve got a 17-foot Kevlar canoe that I was able to purchase from Camp Wilderness of the Northern Lights Council in Minnesota. Everything else is pretty standard: general camping equipment, six-gallon bucket for food, five-gallon water bucket, water purification system, tent, tarp, backpacking stove, sunblock, DEET, etc.
B.W.: Will you be continuing all the way down to the Gulf? What will you do once there?
J.T.: Ending in a place like New Orleans would be much more convenient, logistically, but my goal is to make it to the Gulf. Once we’re there … I guess we’ll take a dip in the ocean.
B.W.: What do you think the most difficult part will be?
J.T.: The trip will be physically demanding. I’ve read there are headwinds which will make paddling difficult. That being said, I don’t mind hard work. At times we’ll be dirty, tired and cold. Again, this is all part of the experience.
There’s going to be a huge learning curve for Julie in that she doesn’t have much camping or canoeing experience. I suppose for her this is the ultimate test of willpower and perseverance. Once again, I’m not worried; she’s a four-time marathon runner with a big heart.
I’m the outdoors man of the group, so she’ll be leaning on me for advice and help along the way. This trip will be a new experience for the two of us. We’ll have to take a look back at what was most difficult after we accomplish our goal.
You can keep track of this trip on Tavakoli’s Facebook page.
He also says he and Haskell will take tons of photos and videos of their journey. I’ll be sure to follow up once they complete the trip to get a full recap!
Hat tip: This story idea comes from Scouter Jon Melick. Melick saw my post about an Eagle Scout biking to every MLB ballpark and wanted to share the story of another Eagle Scout taking an impressive long-distance journey.