ROCK ISLAND, Ill — The Mississippi River is home to 360 species of fish, 326 species of birds, 145 species of amphibians and 50 species of mammals. This summer, it's also home to a Minnesota man who is biking and canoeing down the full length of the river.
"I have wanted to do this for a long time or something like it, some big canoe trip," said Robin Garwood of St. Paul.
He began planning the trip in November and took off in his canoe May 30 from Lake Itasca.
Most days he tries to be on the water by 8 or 9 in the morning, and he'll paddle as long as it's light out or until he gets tired and sets up camp on the river's shore.
"I just sort of stop when I see something that looks good at evening time," he said.
Some days, Garwood will bike along the river or into town, his canoe attached to a pair of wheels rolling along behind. He estimates the canoe and all his gear weigh about 100 pounds.
"I expected it to be difficult, and it has been difficult," Garwood said. "It's been a lot of hard work, a lot more hard work than I think I thought I was getting in for. Up in Northern Minnesota, it was probably the worst year we've had for mosquitoes and ticks that I've ever experienced."
One of the challenges he's noticed while navigating the Mississippi has been the locks and dams. He recalled a scary experience he had at Lock No. 6, located near Trempealeau, Wisconsin.
"I basically got pushed into the lock by a tailwind," Garwood said. "It ended up with me actually having to shout for help to the lock guys because the wind pushed me past the pull cord. And so, I was basically just sort of down by their doors in big, weird, chaotic waves feeling pretty scared."
Another morning, he woke up to see that his canoe had floated away. A man living nearby went out on his motorboat and found the canoe about a mile away.
Garwood's favorite part, though, has been seeing how the river changes as it moves downstream.
"At first the river was this tiny little stream in a giant marsh just sort of wiggling back and forth," he said. "One of the struggles that I had was, I would actually have the bow of the boat hit one shore and then the stern of the boat hit the other shore. And then yesterday, I canoed across the Mississippi, and it was like a half-mile wide. Seeing the way that different towns relate to the river and don't relate to the river has been really interesting. And then just the changes in the wildlife as I've gone has been really neat."
Garwood is hoping to get as close to the Gulf of Mexico as possible by the end of August before he has to be home on Sept. 1.
"It's iconic," he said. "It's this very important river in terms of American culture. It has had this long-term impact. A lot of people have done this."