MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — It was day seven, and the exhaustion was about to set in. Alyssum Pohl was in her tent hopelessly trying to sleep while a group of drunken twentysomethings spent the night shooting guns and yelling just outside.
With no sleep and more than 20 miles to paddle, it was a safe bet that the next day was going to be a long one.
Mud, mosquitoes and more than 2,500 miles of water separate this Lexington native and University of Kentucky graduate from her goal of kayaking the entire Mississippi River.
Pohl, a 2004 biology grad and former Gaines Fellow, began her source-to-sea trip June 27 in Lake Itasca, Minn., and will take about three months to arrive at the Gulf of Mexico near New Orleans.
The journey, in addition to being the adventure of a lifetime, is an effort to educate people about water quality in America’s lakes, rivers and oceans. Pohl will take water samples, document litter and help clean up beaches along the way. She’ll submit some of her data to the Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation, and she’ll use some of it to write scholarly articles. She’ll also share the data with each of the 10 states she travels through, including Kentucky.
Her blog, “Paddle On!” is her account of the entire journey, from what she packed in her kayak to how she navigates around beaver dams.
Pohl has already posted photos, videos and written updates of her trip and her health. Some of the posts, like the entry for day seven titled “Exhaustion sets in,” show that her journey is far from a vacation.
“I knew that the first couple weeks were going to be training for me, especially because I haven’t done anything like this before,” Pohl said. “You’re being physical eight to 10 hours a day, and your body feels that.”
Coupled with tired joints and aching muscles come other hardships, such as when Pohl’s stove broke down the first night she tried to fire it up.
“I’ve been eating a lot of canned food and peanut butter,” she said. “A couple nights I just put cold water over my ramen and let it sit there.”
But despite such hiccups, Pohl is mostly staying positive and has continued her mission, taking water samples, collecting trash and paddling on.
Pohl said she has been surprised by the lack of trash in the water, but also disappointed by the amount of litter at campsites. As of July 10, Pohl was approaching the twin cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
She wants her journey to make people realize that no matter how far inland you are, littering at campsites and in rivers will eventually pollute America’s rivers, lakes and even the ocean.
“Every little bit of pollution … it all goes somewhere, and it all matters,” she said.
Pohl will keep some of the litter for Lindsey Wohlman, an artist from Lafayette, Colo., who wants to use the waste to create a model of the river that shows where each piece of trash comes from. Wohlman said she hopes the piece creates discussion about waste, why it’s important and how it affects our rivers.
“I just thought this was such an interesting story,” Wohlman said. “(Waste) is such a huge factor in daily life.”
The water samples will be compared with those of John Sullivan, a retired Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources biologist who canoed the Mississippi River in 2012 and 2013.
Sullivan said he is excited to see what Pohl finds, and he has talked with her about the trip ahead.
“I did provide some advice to her, but she seemed like she was pretty knowledgeable of what to expect,” Sullivan said. “She actually got lost in the same region that I got lost in. Those rice beds, those marshes, can be pretty tricky to get through.”
Pohl has a Facebook page and a Kickstarter page to gain support and update her followers. Pohl raised nearly $7,000 in less than a month on her Kickstarter page.
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