Down the “Big River”

On June 20th several GRN members gathered at The Bridge Lounge to hear writer and adventure-seeker Andy Borbely speak about his 2005 canoeing expedition down the Mississippi River with friend Justin Hoest. An idea that was spontaneously thought up while listening to Johnny Cash’s “Big River” during a road trip gained traction when Hoest sent an email out of the blue to Borbely with the subject line reading: “Mississippi 2005?” and the entire body of the email was a famous Mark Twain quotation: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” After another year or so of planning and saving money, their adventure was planned and neither one looked back.Self proclaimed “Type-B” personality Andy Borbely took it upon himself to keep he and “Type-A” Justin in good spirits during the 74-day long journey. After starting their adventure in May of 2005 in Lake Itaska, Minnesota, Borebely and Hoest were extremely vigilant about making sure that they paddled every single inch of the river, meaning carrying the canoe back upstream if necessary. They shared the river with barges and steamboats and Borbely shared many stories of navigating the river’s many lock-and-dam points. Unsurprisingly, it was not an easy journey. After dealing with bouts of heat stroke, run-ins with potentially dangerous locals, and not-so-ideal conditions, Borbely and Hoest lived to tell an amazing tale. Borbely touched on his experience with the increasingly polluted waters of the Mississippi and shared with us his dismay at how much pollution he found especially in the industrial basin by St. Louis. Borbely wowed the group with his compelling retelling of his story, and emphasized how amazing and supportive the people were that he met along the way. Much to the amazement of the New Orleanian crowd at the Bridge Lounge, Borbely and Hoest paddled into the Gulf of Mexico a mere 11 days before Hurricane Katrina made landfall. Borbely now lives in New Orleans and is an aspiring novelist.After Borbely’s talk about his journey, GRN’s own Matt Rota shared with us some of the environmental issues facing the Mississippi River and the Gulf. He spoke briefly about the growing issue of the Dead Zone that is a result of growing fertilizer use and agricultural pollution along the Mississippi’s vast watershed. For more information on GRN’s future membership events or becoming a GRN member, visit www.healthygulf.orgWilla Howe is GRN’s Development Intern

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